Medical News Today: Which is better: Bottled water or tap water?

The sections below list some of the pros and cons of bottled water.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set the standards for bottled water. They require manufacturers to process and transport bottled water under sanitary conditions and to use processes that ensure the safety of the water.

This means that, in general, bottled water is safe to drink. In very rare cases, however, bottled water recalls occur due to contamination.

One cause for concern is the presence of plastic in bottled water. Research indicates that most bottled water contains microplastics, which may pose health risks.

One 2018 study, for example, tested 11 globally sourced brands of bottled water from nine different countries. The researchers found that 93% of the bottles showed some signs of microplastic contamination, and that they contained double the amount present in tap water.

These findings suggest that the contamination is at least partially due to the packaging process itself. Researchers are now starting to investigate the impact of these microplastics on human health.

Microplastics appear to fall within the same category of endocrine-disrupting chemicals as obesogens, affecting human, animal, and marine metabolism, reproduction, oxidative stress, and several other factors.

Also, people with weakened immune systems should take special precautions with their drinking water, choosing bottled water that manufacturers have treated to protect against the parasite Cryptosporidium.

Though FDA inspection of bottled water plants is rare, the FDA have recalled two bottled water brands due to contamination. These were Safeway Select in 2001 and Sam’s Choice in 2005.

Consumer access to bottled water information and contaminant levels is limited compared with the tap water disclosure requirements required by the EPA.

Taste and source

Some people may prefer the taste of bottled water. However, as mentioned above, studies tend to show that the majority of people cannot tell the difference between tap and bottled water.

When purchasing bottled water, people may wish to consider the source. A lot of bottled water is simply filtered tap water.

Water that comes from an underground source or fresh spring will carry one of the following FDA-approved labels:

  • artesian well water
  • mineral water
  • spring water
  • well water

People may also wish to choose bottled water if they prefer flavored or sparkling water. Many water brands sell citrus- or berry-flavored water, for example. Sparkling water is a popular alternative to still.

Cost and convenience

According to some estimates, bottled water is almost 2,000 times the price of tap water, with a gallon — obtained from combining single-serve water bottles — costing almost three times the national average for a gallon of milk.

This is interesting, given that bottled water is often simply filtered tap water.

One reason that people choose bottled over tap water despite the cost difference may be that it can be more convenient to have a bottle to hand when out and about — especially if there is no access to a faucet.

Environmental impact

Research indicates that the bottling, refrigeration, and transportation processes associated with water, as well as the disposal of plastic bottles after use, cause a wide range of adverse environmental effects far greater than those of tap water.

For example, in 2016, the bottling of water in the U.S. used 4 billion pounds of plastic. This process required an estimated energy input equal to approximately 64 million barrels of oil.

According to nonprofit organization Container Recycling Institute, every day in the U.S., people throw away over 60 million plastic water bottles. The majority of these bottles make their way into landfills and waterways, or they litter the streets.

These plastic bottles also release toxins as they degrade.

Some people try to reuse plastic water bottles in a bid to offset some of the environmental impacts. This may pose risks in the long-term, however, including the risk of bacterial growth and the risk of toxins leaching from the bottle.

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